Is Pad Thai Gluten-Free?

Is Pad Thai gluten-free? Pad thai is a delicious street food from Thailand. The dish combines noodles with vegetables with peanuts, eggs, and either shrimp or chicken. The dish is savory with the use of tamarind, soy sauce, and fish sauce. The very things that make this dish filling and delicious may have gluten.

The noodle, sauces, and other ingredients may have gluten. It can be tricky to sort out whether a restaurant’s Pad Thai is safe or whether they need to make modifications for you to eat it. Tricky, but it can be done.

In this post, we’ll be discussing what Pad Thai is, how to order it gluten-free, what USA restaurants have gluten-free Pad Thai, and some Pad Thai recipes to try at home. So let’s dive in!

BUT before we dive in, don’t forget to grab my FREE Gluten-Free USA Restaurant Cheat Sheets to help simplify dining out for you. Visit this webpage to download them!

Table of Contents

light pink background with bold dark title saying "what is pad thai" and a brief not all-inclusive summary is provided to explain it.

What is Gluten?

Before we get into if Pad Thai is gluten-free, we need to know what gluten is. Because how can we know if something is free from gluten if we don’t know what it is?

Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, contaminated oats, and wheat. It may be helpful to remember the acronym “BROW” when trying to remember what foods have gluten.

In baked goods, gluten holds things together working as a binding agent. It gives texture and chew to foods.

Most people can safely eat gluten. However, some people have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease which means they need to avoid gluten. It can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea and nausea as well as nonintestinal symptoms such as rashes, headaches, or joint pain.

What is Pad Thai?

Now that we know what gluten is, we need to know what Pad Thai is in order to know if it’s gluten-free. Pad Thai is a Thai street food that has rice noodles with shrimp, peanuts, scrambled eggs, and bean sprouts, among other vegetables. It is cooked in a wok.

You can find Pad Thai at Thai restaurants or fusion Asian food restaurants. It is traditionally served with the toppings on the side such as peanuts, green onions, bean sprouts, etc. They can be mixed in in the US. 

In Thailand, there would be included salty, dried, mini shrimp, and banana flowers. The American version doesn’t have them. The Thai version has herbs in it and, instead of herbs, the American version can have chicken and rice vinegar. 

Benefits of Pad Thai on a Gluten-Free Diet

Gluten-free Pad Thai (and normal Pad Thai), can have many nutritional benefits. Often noodles and pasta can have a pad reputation but they can be an important part of a balanced diet.

Pad thai provides carbs, fats, and protein. These macronutrients are essential to our health. The carbs come from the rice noodles. The fat comes from vegetable oil, peanuts, and egg. The protein comes from the peanuts, the egg, and shrimp or chicken (if included).

Additionally, depending on what the Pad Thai is made with, it can provide iron, calcium, fiber, and more. All nutrients of concern with celiac.

Pad Thai vs. Pad See Ew

When talking about gluten-free Pad Thai, it’s important not to confuse it with Pad See Ew. Both Pad Thai and Pad See Ew are Thai dishes. They are made in a wok. However, these two dishes are different. 

Pad Thai is made with thin rice noodles, shrimp, peanuts, scrambled eggs, and bean sprouts, among other vegetables. The flavor comes from tamarind paste and fish sauce.

Pad See Ew means stir-fried soy sauce noodles and that’s what it is. Wide(ish) noodles are caramelized in dark and regular soy sauces, oyster sauce, vinegar, and sugar. The vinegar gives a bit of a sour flavor.

Learn more about the differences here

light pink background with bold dark title saying "ordering gluten-free pad thai" and a brief not all-inclusive summary of what to avoid, be cautious of, and enjoy when making or ordering gluten-free Pad Thai.

Is Pad Thai Gluten-Free?

Now that we know what gluten is, we can talk about if Pad Thai is gluten-free. Putting our food safety into another’s hands is always hard. Pad thai is a potential hazard. There may be some ingredients used that are not gluten-free.

Traditionally, Pad Thai is made with rice noodles and fish sauce. The first problem can come from if the chef uses wheat noodles instead. So you’ll want to make sure they use rice noodles and that no other kinds of noodles are boiled in the same water as them.

The sauces are also potential sources of gluten. Pad Thai uses fish sauce and tamarind sauce. Although it’s not traditional, some recipes may also call for soy sauce. These ingredients can contain gluten. So it’s important to check them.

Making Pad Thai at home can help mitigate the risks because you are in full control. We’ll talk more about that later. And if you’re not making it at home, you should always check on ingredients and preparation methods to make sure it’s safe.

Are Pad Thai Noodles Gluten-Free?

Pad Thai noodles are gluten-free if they are traditional rice noodles made from just rice. These are broad and flat resembling linguine. However, it is possible to get noodles that are a blend of rice and wheat flour. So you’ll need to check.

Pad Thai noodles can also be substituted with egg noodles or some other form of pasta that contains gluten. While not traditional, it can happen so never assume the noodles are safe unless you ask about them.

The noodles can also be prepared with various sauces that are not gluten-free such as soy sauce or fish sauce (but there are gluten-free versions of these sauces). So you’ll also need to check on them too.

Ultimately, if they are traditional Pad Thai Noodles made with just rice and boiled in plain water and made without gluten-containing sauces, they can be gluten-free.

How to Order GF Pad Thai at Restaurants

When ordering gluten-free Pad Thai from restaurants, you’ll want to ask about cross-contact and ingredients in the dish. Below are some questions to get you started but are not all-inclusive.

  • Is there soy sauce, tamarind paste, oyster sauce, or fish sauce in this? If so can you confirm they are free of gluten, wheat, rye or barley?
  • Are the sauces thickened with wheat flour?
  • Do you have gluten-free soy sauce?
  • Can I bring my own gluten-free soy sauce?
  • Are your rice noodles 100% gluten-free? If they have gluten, could you make this as a plain rice dish instead?
  • Would you use a freshly washed pan and utensils?
  • Would you change your gloves?
  • Can you prepare the rice noodles in a freshly washed pot and new water?

Remember, these questions are a starting place and are not all-inclusive. Be sure you’re assessing safety and suitability for yourself, every time you dine out. If you need help with this, I teach you how to do this in 4 simple steps in my Gluten-Free Dining Course, check it out here.

Pad Thai at P.F. Chang’s

Now that we know how to order gluten-free Pad Thai, you might wonder if there’s safe Pad Thai at PF Chang’s. In the 60s, a popular restaurant called the Mandarette was run by Cecelia Chang.

In 1993, in Scottsdale, Arizona, PF Changs was born using some of the Mandarette’s recipes. Today, PF Changs is known for making everything from scratch.

PF Chang’s has gluten-free options. These options do include some versions of their Pad Thai. They also have a designated space in the kitchen to make allergen items. As always, safety and suitability tend to vary by dining time, location, restaurant staff, and your own dining out skill level. So assess your safety for yourself.

Pad Thai at Pei Wei

What about Pei Wei, do they have gluten-free Pad Thai? Pei Wei started in 2000 in Scottsdale Arizona too. They are now located all over the nation. They pride themselves on very fresh food made fast.

When contacting them, they said their Pad Thai is not gluten-free. The way the rice noodles are made it would have trace amounts of gluten from the preparation (They said even if made in its own pot/freshwater). Sometimes restaurants will say this if they don’t fully understand cross-contact.

I did not get clarification as to where the trace gluten is coming from with the Pad Thai noodles so it might still be safe if the trace gluten still falls below <20ppm FDA gluten-free standards. Despite the confusing status of their noodles, their Pad Thai sauce has gluten. So you’ll likely want to get Pad Thai from somewhere else anyways.

Gluten-Free Pad Thai Recipes

Because not all restaurant Pad Thai options are gluten-free, you might feel more comfortable making your own Pad Thai at home.

Generally, you will need rice noodles, gluten-free tamarind paste, gluten-free soy sauce (though not traditional), stock, gluten-free fish sauce, peanuts, and bean sprouts.

First, cook the noodles then make the sauce by combining the ingredients. Season the protein. Place the noodles in a heated wok and add the seasonings and ingredients one at a time.

See the recipes below for more guidance and inspiration.

Gluten-Free Shrimp Pad Thai by Darlene Schmidt and the Spruce Eats

Shrimp Pad Thai

This Gluten-Free Shrimp Pad Thai recipe by The Spruce Eats is perfect for my seafood lovers looking to enjoy Pad Thai at home. You’ll need rice noodles, shrimp, gluten-free soy sauce, chicken stock, gluten-free fish sauce, brown sugar, oil, bean sprouts, peanuts, and an assortment of herbs and spices.

To make it, you’ll first combine all the sauce ingredients in a bowl. Then you’ll partially cook the noodles, season the shrimp, and heat up your wok. The rest of the steps involve adding ingredients at different times to the wok until you get a finished bowl of delicious gluten-free shrimp Pad Thai.

Gluten-Free Shrimp Pad Thai by Darlene Schmidt and the Spruce Eats

Basic GF Pad Thai

This basic Gluten-free Pad Thai Recipe  by Nomad Fitzpatrick is designed with celiac disease in mind. For this recipe, you will need eggs, shallots, carrots, bean sprouts, sugar, peanuts, and gluten-free fish, soy, and tamarind sauce.

Boil the noodles and set them aside. Mix together all the sauces. Heat up the wok and start by cooking the shallots. You will add the ingredients one by one as the recipe guides you until you get one wonderfully savory dish of noodles.

Gluten-Free Shrimp Pad Thai by Darlene Schmidt and the Spruce Eats

Colorful Pad Thai

For a more Colorful Gluten-free Pad Thai recipe, try this one by Pure and Simple Nourishment, is simple but takes multiple steps. You will need rice noodles, oil, chicken, carrots, bell peppers, green onion, and a number of other ingredients to make the sauce.

Cook the noodles first. Mix all the sauce ingredients together to make a sauce. In a heated wok, start cooking the chicken. The recipe will guide you through which ingredient to add when until you have one tasty plateful!

Thai’ing it All Together

Whether you’re ordering it at a restaurant or making it at home, enjoying gluten-free Pad Thai is possible. You just need to be careful of cross-contact and ingredients that contain gluten.

I hope this blog post helped you feel more confident in ordering Pad Thai are restaurants. And if you want more help with dining out, don’t forget to download my FREE Gluten-Free Restaurant Cheat Sheets with the button below!

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